From Grief to Grace: A Brief Reflection on My Birth Story

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My husband knew I was nervous because I’d asked him what I should wear at least three times that day. I still hadn’t lost my pregnancy weight and hadn’t realized that the hope of concealing my ripened motherly figure was just a symbol of the burden I carried from the trauma of my son’s birth.

I was meeting with my birth group for the first time since each of our births. There were four couples and we shared our stories in the order of birth dates. The first of the mother’s had a lovely, textbook, natural birth. Short. Simple. Magical. The second to go had an intensely bright and memorable birth as well, but a few complications crept up, resulting in her newborn taking a brief visit to the NICU. The third to go had the hardest story to hear by far. Her labor was intense. Long. Relentless. She felt let down by her birth team. It was up to her to draw inward to find her roaring strength. She was saddened and disappointed by the many setbacks of her birth. As with the stories, each of our voices shifted, first of illumination and slowly dimming with the darkening of the day. Lastly, it was time to share my story. A journey full of unexpected complications. Countless downfalls. Questions unanswered. With a night sky so black and the moon hidden.

Weeks following the birth, I was angry. I pitied myself and the story that unfolded that fall morning when I met my son, not in the warmth of my home as I’d so hoped, but under the bright lights of stark hospital ceilings. But I prepared, I thought. I’d done everything I could. Read books. Attended classes. Prayed. Meditated. Recited affirmations. Exercised. Ate nourishing foods. Hoped. Wished. Planned. Expected.

And then, as I’m often reminded in the expanding and contracting of my itty-bitty life, I recognized that I had no control. I was an innocent creature at the mercy of God atop a high tree stretching toward grace; the clap of thunderclouds and sting of lightening pierced the steadying branch on which I’d built my trust. In my innocence, I was begging for something that I didn’t quite know. Was I begging for the safety of my pride? The belief of my control? The wish to regain power?

As the weeks passed, it was as if the den space where I was burrowed began to widen. Acceptance and clarity emerged, and from within, I saw a bright light. The more I looked into the ocean eyes of the tiny, ancient spirit that rested in my arms, the more I saw in my own eyes a new perspective. That the opening of my body may have faced blocks and obstacles in our welcoming, but the expansion of myself did not stop from the womb – it spread up in to my heart and from there it was grown.

For me, for my story, it does not matter how my child entered the physical world, because for me, he birthed from my heart. A powerful surge pushed him from within me and placed him onto my chest. On a once-ordinary day in October, I held a rainbow in my arms. The bright lights of the hospital walls were rays of sunlight welcoming his tiny bird-like heart. I was in the tree and the lightening-bolt scar that pierced my skin is now a constant symbol of the humble vessel that I am.

We all expect. We all judge in our own ways. I judged myself. I judged others in birth, in motherhood, in feeding our children, educating our children and even in how to love. But as my tiny sage-child looks into my eyes, he’s shown me that we all have our own ways of loving. That instead of planning and expecting, preparing and plotting, we are to live with only one agenda: simply follow the heart so that all beat as one; in love, in light, in purity.

Today the sun has wakened hours ago, but for my child and me, our eyes slowly open to the ballads of birds that have most likely eaten and played for hours. I look into his deep, welcoming eyes and do not think of anything other than this moment. I may not have held him as quickly or for as long as I’d hoped during the first seconds of his unforgettable transition into this world, but there is a lifetime of moments I do have to hold him in my arms. He is here. I am here. We are healthy and there is more love than any birth plan could write. Soon we’ll rise and dress for the day. I do not know what I’ll wear and I remember there is no need to cover my tender skin. I should wear my new body with joy as a token for the life I grew within me. When I look down at the cushioned nest that housed my baby boy, I feel as though I could open my birdwings and soar.

This post was inspired by the excerpt, “Birdwings” from A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings. As with much of Rumi’s work, I was touched in many ways by this poem and was led to write a very brief piece around my life. “Birdwings” poem below:

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror

up to where you’re bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,

here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.

If it were always a fist or always stretched open,

you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence

is in every small contracting and expanding,

the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated

as birdwings.

Image: gabl menashe


8 thoughts on “From Grief to Grace: A Brief Reflection on My Birth Story”

  1. When I had an unplanned emergency c-section 17 years ago, I was right there with the author… the anger, frustration, disappointment. I held on to it for far too long. I managed a VBAC a few years later, then a planned c-section. And the an unplanned VBAC. My son was stillborn and his delivery changed my perspective entirely. The only good to come from that painful loss was truly understanding that I didn’t care how my babies came into this world. I only cared that they got here alive.

  2. Thank-you for sharing your story. It’s not an easy one to share, but for those of us that have that same scar across our belly and heart it comforts and eases the ache to know we are not alone.

  3. I can think of nothing more insensitive than to use the word “grief” when you are describing the birth of a living, healthy child. I hope you never have to experience what real grief is after delivery. You have trivialized the anguish of any mother who has lost a child, before birth, during birth or after. Shame on you. And shame on the previous commenter who claims a scar across her heart. Shame on you both.

  4. I also had an unplanned c-section and it was traumatic in that I am so afraid to ever be pregnant or try to give birth again. You know what, though? I never cried about it or complained about it or dwelled on it or made a big deal about it because I had a beautiful baby. Maybe you don’t have anything real in your life to complain about and that’s your problem. I’m sorry but tough up, get over it, get some real problems.

  5. Thank you, Jessica Latham, for sharing your beautifully put reflection about your hurt as a new mother and about the journey of making peace with it.

    Tessa, in your tone, I hear you scolding yourself for having feelings about your own traumatic birth. It is most likely that your environment has denied you expression of those feelings. I am wishing for you a deep healing and love. There is no shame in having strong feelings about birth, especially a traumatic one. Birth is an experience that two people go though: a mother and a child. Both may experience it completely differently and both have feelings that are valid. Healing negative feelings is essential to allowing mother-child relationship to flourish. Peace of heart to all mothers hurt emotionally and physically by their birth experiences. What you feel is valid and real. You deserve to feel better and enjoy motherhood. Talking about hurt to other mothers who understand it can bring true solace. Wishing this to all.

  6. I lost a child. And I had my twins by a C-section that was medically warranted but NOT at all wanted. And guess what? Both of those things hurt me and caused a lot of grief. Until it happens to you, you don’t know how you’d react. Grief is grief, regardless of the reason why. Tess and E.T., please don’t judge others. It’s not your place to.

  7. I have experienced a loss and a birth gone awry (even though it did not end in a c-section). I’m sorry you have to endure others’ insensitivities. Both of my experiences were traumatizing, and people who haven’t walked in your shoes won’t always get it. It is unfair of people to compare a loss with a traumatic birth experience and to judge you for your heartbreak/grief. We don’t always choose how we react to our experiences, and I don’t see anything wrong with being devastated that things went wrong despite all your best efforts. You wanted to do your best for your baby and to protect your baby and give your baby the best, most peaceful, most nurturing, bonding birth possible, and it didn’t happen. I get it. And I’m sorry that some others don’t.

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